Saturday, December 28, 2013

Paid to ride my own horse?

After a crazy busy last two weeks I haven't had much time or energy to ride Charlie. I did hop on here and there just to do something with him, but I knew pretty soon I'd have to get back in the swing of real riding. So when Friday dawned bright and beautiful and Jan suggested using Charlie as the "dummy" horse to help work on herd sourness in one of our training horses, I was like "OK!"

This horse, Coty, has some major issues when he feels he's being left alone while out on the trails so we'd been working with him in hand while I rode Colby, one of the other training horses, practicing each of them being left alone and then rejoining the other horse. Colby is only in a training program two days a week, though, so we can't use him all the time and we thought it might be good idea to try going out with other horses instead. Since I needed to ride Charlie anyway, and we currently don't have any others in training, he was the logical pick.

Not going to lie, I was a little worried. Charlie has been amazing since going on SmartCalm and being at this new barn, but he's had some herd bound issues in the past where he rears and spins, and not having been ridden in awhile was a little worrisome. Plus there were kids out riding four wheelers and bikes in the woods at the same time. Always fun.

But I decided not to be a chicken, threw on my mom's western saddle, and we hit the trails. Charlie was blowing a bit and did a small mount of jigging here and there, but he kept his head. The first time Coty was out of sight he bobbled from side to side, not wanting to move forward. This is his pre-rear move and when I first kicked him forward and wouldn't let him turn around his front feet came off the ground a few inches, but there was no real rear and with more firm and consistent encouragement he stepped off and continued down the trail. He did do a a few low breathy whinnies under his breath (like he didn't want me to hear) which I just think is just so cute. Plus, if he's not doing anything else bad I don't mind a little "talking" :)

At one point Jan asked me to leave them for a little longer so I took Charlie for a short trot and then canter in the field. He was understandably happy with that. In the end it was a successful training day for both Coty and Charlie, and I got paid to do it! How many people can say they got paid to ride their own horse?! :)

Charlie and Leo enjoying the gorgeous winter day


Wow, where did the time go? This Christmas season just seemed to fly by....probably had something to do with the fact that I worked at Target at least three nights a week until well after midnight and then had to get up to ride and work at the barn at 6am the next day. When I wasn't at Target I had the night feeding shift at Spring Hill. Busy busy busy!

Christmas Eve was spent at my parents house with my sisters, eating our traditional Meal of Appetizers (yum!), making margaritas and playing card games. The next day we enjoyed my parents' annual Christmas Day brunch followed by the opening of presents, after which Dan and I drove up to see his family in New Jersey.

Emma makes a pretty cute reindeer

One of my parents' dogs, River
Bailey wanted nothing more than to nap on his new fox toy
Asher puppy is getting big
Emma babysat Asher during present-opening

It was a really nice low key Christmas and I got several nice things, including some money to spend on myself and horsey things for Charlie (very excited to hit those post-Christmas sales and my favorite consignment store). I also got a couple of horse books that I'm eager to start reading: Denny Emerson's "How Good Riders Get Good" and a Penny Cummings book of ground exercises and connecting with your horse.

New Defender rain sheet for Charlie

Emma got her own stable blanket! So cute!
We came home Thursday afternoon, amidst a TON of traffic, and quick scooted over to the barn to feed the horses. Thank god for Dan, he finished feeding for me since I had to run in to Target. All in all it was great to see everyone but after all that traveling we could all use a day of rest I think, including Emma:

Are we home yet?

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Tie down day 2

The tying down lesson went very well today. Charlie seemed to know the drill right off the bat and didn't fly backward once; in fact, as soon as I backed up to my position he started walking forward. I added pressure and he went all the way to the post. Good boy!

Afterward I worked him in the faux-soa rig and he was so good I threw on his rope halter, looped the lead around and tied it like reins, then hopped on for a few laps of transitions around the ring....Is this really my horse?! :)

I is a good Charlie horse :)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Learning to tie down

If you've been following this blog for awhile you will know that Charlie has a bit of a problem when he feels he's being tied down:
We went through at least 3 holes in this crownpiece
Brand new halter? Not anymore
He really didn't like this one I guess
Last week he destroyed another one and Jan was there to see it. Charlie had actually stood calmly tied to the post at the end of the ring with another horse while I worked the training horses; Jan even remarked at how good he was being, a model horse. But when Charlie put down his last foot after I picked it out he stepped backward a bit, felt the pressure on his face and threw up his head. Snap went the old halter, in pieces, unsalvageable.

To try and solve this problem I've tried using a blocker tie ring (see an example here, really cool and worked well but I just don't have one of my own), bungee crossties, looping the leadrope loosely around the rail or tie ring, just tight enough to let Charlie know he was tied but able to loosen up under tension. Every time I'd think he was getting better we'd lose another halter. Grrr. Luckily Jan had some ideas and offered to try a new approach.

The way it works is by using a long line that is attached from the horse's halter, looped around the tie post, and then to you. You position the horse about 20 feet back from the tying post while you stand at about a 45 degree angle on the other end of the line and then you gently apply pressure on the line while clucking to encourage the horse to take a step toward the post.

Once he takes one step, you release the pressure and praise him.

Keep repeating this, stepwise, until he reaches the post. It can take awhile but lots and lots of praise is key! If he reacts and throws his head back, let him back up but don't release pressure on the line entirely. Wait a minute, then try to ask him to go forward again.

Feeling the pressure
I think I'll back out of it
Ok, maybe I can take a step
ANOTHER step?!
No no no!
Ok, maybe this isn't so bad
Huh. I didn't die.
Good boy!
Massage time :)
It worked really well with Charlie. It will take several more sessions but after one stepwise journey up to the hitching post, he willingly walked the all the way up on his own then next time and stood there with his head down and soft eyes, thinking. He got a 10 minute face massage as a reward, the good boy.

Happy Birthday

Yesterday was my 27th birthday. When did I get so old!?

A little birdie told me someone has a birthday...
All in all I had a really great day. I didn't have to work at Target, only the barn in the morning (which isn't really work) so I had the rest of the day to ride and relax. For dinner I opted for a small family dinner party and Dan made me an amazing meal of all my favorite foods.

Fettuccine alfredo with tomato/mozz salad and asparagus
Awesome chocolate peanut butter cupcakes for dessert
Afterward Dan and I stayed up until midnight playing Trivial Pursuit. Nerds we may be, but I couldn't have asked for a better ending to a very nice day.

Wine, chocolate and Trivial Pursuit. Perfection :)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Winter Wonderland

As I sit here, warming up after a morning at the barn, looking out the window at the softly falling snow....

With Emma snoozing on the bed, keeping me company...

I am happy because I know my pony is out enjoying the first real snow of the season....with his friends :)
Yesterday morning (12/9/13)
Charlie and his new comrades: Colby and Spot

Friday, December 6, 2013


When Charlie had his face injury several months ago, one of my readers suggested trying MTG on the wound to help minimize scarring and improve the regrowth of hair over the area. So, though skeptical that it was too good to be true, I bought some and after Charlie's nose was done looking "wound-ish" and was pretty much just bare skin I switched out the neosporin for MTG. Everything healed beautifully! Now you can barely tell there was anything there.

See? Barely a bump
One try is not quite enough to convince a skeptic, though. So I decided last week to try the MTG again on some slow-healing old bite wounds. Charlie liked to rough house when he was with Gi and so when he arrived at the new barn he was sporting several huge bare patches on his cheek and under his neck.
You can see one of the bigger ones, this was taken back on 11/12/13
I figured these spots would just fill back in but even as of last week this one (shown above) honestly looked exactly the same. Plus Charlie was sporting several fresh bites. So once he got to the new barn I decided to try using some MTG. After only one week of application, every other day, this is what we have:
That's new hair on the cheek wound!
New hair started growing within days and the newer, more raw bites (like the other one you can see above) are about 50% improved. Some of the smaller bare patches on his sides are almost completely gone. Ok, MTG, I'm impressed.

The bottle said MTG can be used on the base of the mane or tail as well to encourage longer healthier hair. Charlie has an awesome tail, but his wimpy forelock is a whole other story. Maybe with some MTG it will grow into something a little more respectable. Anyway, MTG you sold me!

Enough about the MTG. I'm cookies?

Pretty sure my horse is gay

While we cleaned his stall today Charlie was turned loose in the indoor with a horse named Prince in the round pen, and no sooner had he touched noses with the old gelding than he proceeded to let it all hang out....and then began flicking himself up on his belly. Good lord, Charlie, get a room! Prince didn't seem to mind at all. If anything he started coming on to Charlie by the end, whinnying as I led him away. Or maybe he was just happy to have a buddy other than the spunky little pony he's normally turned out with. Of all the horses Charlie could be attracted to, though, Prince?? The guy is like 30 years old!

.....Guess that explains why Spot kept chasing him away!:P
Charlie and Prince

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Accomplishment of the day: Riding while two mustangs were being freelunged in the round pen

This sort of thing would normally have Charlie completely wigged out. He has been known to have a slight phobia of other horses being in the ring doing anything other than walking around, but we took it slow and built up his confidence and his focus on me and it couldn't have gone better.

I started with groundwork - breaking at the poll, hindquarters over, shoulders over, halting - and although he got antsy when he approached the other horses he stayed with me. He called out a few times, and he got *ahem* a little "excited" because one of the horses was in heat, but he didn't let that interfere with our lesson. (Bonus points to the SmartCalm Ultra or extra turnout...or both!).

By the time I got on he couldn't pay those horses less mind. We worked on bending in both directions and practicing shoulders in and sidepasses in the saddle. Getting him more supple and responsive is my current goal. Whenever he resists the bit pressure or blows through my hands I have been using the hindquarters over cue to disengage him and press the "reset" button. And I'm using a lot of serpentines and circles to stretch him on each side. It seems to be going pretty well.

On another note Charlie is getting along slightly better with the other geldings. He seems to have selected Ethyreal, one of the arabs, as his first "friend attempt"; when I went out to get him today he was only halfway down the field, not at the far far end, hanging out only about ten lengths away from E. 

When I returned him to the pasture I made sure to keep the other horses away long enough for Charlie to get a nice long drink, and then I walked out of the paddock. Pull my heartstrings: poor Charlie kept trying to follow me and nuzzle up as I walked to the gate, not wanting to be left alone with the other horses. "Mom, don't leave me!" Once I was out he nicely sniffed noses with a few horses (and did the submissive pee squirts), but as soon as I locked the gate Spot chased him away. *sigh* All in due time I guess.

Getting a well-deserved private drink
Stay back boys

That means you too Spot and Leo!
"We can be friends, right?" (Charlie and E)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Low man on the totem pole

After being in a private paddock for his first week, Charlie has now earned the right to be turned out with the rest of the geldings. He's is a pretty easygoing guy when it comes to meeting other horses - no squealing or pinned ears or pawing (although he does seem to have a nervous pee like a dog....anyone else heard of a horse doing that?!) - but whenever too many horses are around he'll get nervous and take off. Spot, in particular, seems to have made it his personal mission to pick on poor Charlie. Whenever he's around he makes a point of running Charlie out to the other end of the field. :(

All alone....
So Charlie spent the last three days alone at one end of the paddock while everyone else chilled in the other. I know it will just take time for him to be accepted into the herd, and each day gets better as he starts to make one friend at a time, but right now I feel so sorry for him. He's like a nervous kid being dropped off for the first time at preschool; unfortunately Charlie's the one sitting in the corner coloring while everyone else plays kickball and occassionally uses him for target practice.

Being able to expel all this extra energy outside, though, does have its benefits. Today, for example, Charlie was wonderful and quiet and I was able to enjoy a lovely bareback ride at the walk, trot, and canter. That I could get used to!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Great ride!

I don't have much time to post before I go back to work but I just had to say what a fabulous ride I had today with Charlie! We started out with some basic groundwork, with Jan giving some helpful pointers, and then I hopped on and repeated the bending and stopping exercises in the saddle. We trotted some circles and serpentines - all long and low and stretchy! - before cantering easily in both directions without him getting worked up for the upward transition or falling in on his inside shoulder (our two biggest tasks to work on). Yay Charlie! This is the Charlie I like!! :)

Monday, November 25, 2013

Winter Home

I may have chosen the coldest possible day of the season to move Charlie to his new home (can you say 9 degrees with the windchill?!) but with Connie's help he is now all settled in to his winter abode and seems pretty happy. I think he was immediately enjoying having the room to run and stretch his legs, and after showing off a bit for the other horses he quietly settled down to eat his hay.

Friday, November 22, 2013

A Winter Vacation for Charlie

After giving it some thought I've decided it's in Charlie's best interests to move him over to Spring Hill for the winter. A few stalls have recently opened up (as training horses and a couple of others have moved out) and Jan has been really awesome putting together a working board situation that would help me pay for everything. Since I'm at the barn all the time anyway, it will be much easier for me to ride Charlie more consistently and I will have the indoor to use in bad weather. Plus I'm anxious to use the trails that back up to the property. I'm hoping that Connie and I can still make a weekly goal to continue riding together over there, if she's willing to trailer in with Gi. We had a lot of fun the last time :)

Most likely the move will happen sometime this coming week. Now I'm off to get two of Charlie's blankets fixed and cleaned by an Amish guy who was referred by Kate M. Gotta get everything ready for winter!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Good day for a ride

Today Connie and I took advantage of the unseasonably warm November weather to trailer the boys over to the barn where we work for a ride. It was awesome! We started in the indoor to make sure Charlie and Gi would be good since Charlie hasn't been out in a week and this would be the first time Connie ride Gi since her accident several months ago. Walked, trotted, cantered both directions. Charlie carousel-horsed the canter at first but then settled down. We got a b-e-a-utiful long low trot :)

After warming up we decided to hit the trails. The boys were perfect. Even a pond full of swans didn't faze them. With Gi leading I even got Charlie to cross a *very small* creek. Yes, he may have jumped it but, hey, he went across! Coming out of the woods Gi spooked and shot up behind Charlie causing him to jump all four feet straight up off the ground; probably scary to watch but just weird to ride. He calmed right down again and we finished the ride smiling. What a good day :)
The perfect view
Connie and Gi, all smiles :)
P.S. Today was Day 1 of Charlie's SmartCalm Ultra. Here's hoping it does the trick!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Boarding thoughts

Horse ownership can present quite the financial burden. That's not news to anyone. We equestrians do it because we love it and it makes us who we are, and many of us would go without food if it meant our horses could eat. My current situation isn't that dire, but being only partially employed does force me to carefully consider the financial aspect of horse ownership and figure out where I can cut corners and give something up in order to make ends meet.

One of the biggest financial hurdles for me has been boarding. In the past year Charlie has lived in four different places, all very different and with different price tags. No place was perfect but they were all good for one reason or another. Full board, semi-rough, and self-boarding, I've done it all.

Right now Charlie is getting excellent care at Connie's barn and I couldn't be more happy to have him close to home and living with a friend. This was my dream, having my horse in my backyard and free to ride whenever I wanted. But I'm increasingly concerned that this may not be the best fit for Charlie. He loves Gi, his barnmate, and I love that he has 24/7 open access to the paddock. I also like having the control to choose his feed/care and being able to visit whenever I want.

However, the biggest issue I'm running into is one of the consequences of not boarding at a facility: no exercise ring. I'm finding out the hard way how difficult it is to maintain Charlie's "rideability" in the winter on a diet of only road/trail rides. In the summer it wasn't a big deal, but now with the colder weather making Charlie more "up" and the shorter days meaning less daylight hours to ride, it makes it really hard for me to ride him safely (and there's often no one else available when I am to go out riding with me). If it is exceptionally windy, or we got a cold snap, or he's just feeling like a TB there is no comfort of having a ring in which to work him first and get his energy out.

Of course this is a never-ending cycle: the less I am able to ride the more excitable he gets, which makes me less likely to want to chance a ride out alone for fear of him freaking out about something and dropping me in the middle of the road. I don't this Charlie to emerge mid-trail-ride:

Jan 2013
I find myself asking if the pros of free boarding at home, at least during the winter, are still worth the cons: is it worth saving money if I can't really ride my horse? Is it worth the potential regression in Charlie's skills if he has this formal working time off until spring? Do I really want to rejoin a barn and all the drama that inevitably goes on there?

Obviously I don't have much of a choice at the moment - and thankfully unlike some of my previous boarding situations there is absolutely no drama and no urgent call to leave (see my posts from last summer like Evicted, Barn Update, and Moved) - but I truly feel that as a young competitive TB Charlie would be better off if we could be somewhere with an indoor where I could ride him more consistently and in a controlled environment. I wish I could bring him to the barn where I work (although there is a decent amount of drama from a select few of the boarders there). But even the discounted rate I could get there is still a decent amount extra for me to spend each month on my limited salary.

In the meantime I have decided to try something else: a band-aid to hopefully get us through the worst of it. Charlie has been on Vitacalm since I had him and it has worked decently well for the cost. However, I have always thought that SmartPak's SmartCalm Ultra, though pricier, would be a nice thing to try. The product has gotten great reviews and I've known people who have used it with success on their TBs. So since my Vitacalm is running out and SmartPak has a money back guarantee, I decided to order some SmartCalm Ultra. (Plus they had a 50% coupon for your first month of a new supplement...score!)

I hope that by spending this little bit of extra money to try to take some of the edge off, I can continue working Charlie through the winter without having to try more expensive options (like boarding somewhere else). I will let you all know how it goes!